Is conveyancing becoming too complex?

Conveyancers are, and always have been, expected to consider a miscellany of matters when acting in a transaction.

However, it is no secret that conveyancers feel they are increasingly faced with a labyrinth of intricate issues stood between them and the end goal of helping clients move home swiftly and securely: Building Safety Act 2022 requirements, anti-money laundering (AML) considerations, the onus to advise on climate change, just to name a few.

Amidst this discourse, there have been suggestions that the job is simply becoming too complex and risky. Today’s Conveyancer polled 182 conveyancers* in an attempt to quantify this feeling:

“Are you concerned about the increasing complexity of conveyancing work?”

The results were illuminating. Here is an attempt to dig deeper into the reasoning behind this sentiment, and how the industry should look to move forwards.

Is conveyancing becoming too complex?

If one poses this question to Bold Legal Group CEO Rob Hailstone, the answer is a fervent yes. “Without doubt [conveyancing is becoming too complex],” he told Today’s Conveyancer, adding that the government is “sitting idly by” whilst placing more responsibilities onto the shoulders of conveyancers despite its goal of reducing transaction times. He added:

“The Housing Minister needs to spend a day or two in a conveyancing office in order to realise that conveyancers, and conveyancing, are almost at a breaking point.”

A similar feeling comes from AVRillo Conveyancing partner and co-founder Angelo Piccirillo, who said “even more firms than last year” will close their doors if the “rot” – which he says started in 2008 – does not stop:

“It’s like day and night from what conveyancing was to what it is now. Fees […] have halved [while] workloads doubled. Conveyancers spending less time on legals than on administrative tasks […] due to the fear steps of complaints and poor online reviews from the instant gratification client expectations fuelled by the Amazon, ‘I want it now culture’.”

He added that, with more telephone calls and emails to deal with during the day, conveyancers are forced to work nights and weekends to catch up.

Hailstone and Piccirillo were backed up by Suman Dally, partner and head of conveyancing at Shoosmiths, who said conveyancers are “required to wear many hats”, be it “examining legal titles, drafting complex deeds, applying HMRC rules, assessing risk, managing chains, keeping abreast of planning legislation, [all] while clearly explaining the concept of easements and leaseholds to clients”.

David Jabbari, CEO, Muve, had a different angle, suggesting that, while the job “[hasn’t] become significantly more complex in the recent period”, the issue is rather that conveyancing is “inherently risky and complex relative to the fees charged”:

“The combination of high case volumes, client pressure, cyber crime, holding large amounts of client money, and dealing with all this for fees that do not properly take account of this complexity, is the cause of most problems.”

Meanwhile, Dutton Gregory Solicitors Partner Paul Sams said the job is “as complex as you make it”, suggesting that a “well-trained, motivated team” allows firms to take challenges thrown up by the market in their stride.

What are the risks of this complexity?

“The list goes on and on”, said Rob Hailstone. He suggested conveyancers’ wellbeing and health will suffer, in-part leading to a shrinking conveyancer workforce. The BLG CEO also noted that, with added complexity inevitably bloating transaction times, there will also be a dissatisfied homemoving public.

Focusing on the difficulties of dealing with increasing complexity within a law firm, Paul Sams suggested solicitors could once try their hand at anything they fancied before the idea of specialising in specific areas took hold. Now, he said, “we specialise within niche areas within an area of law”. Sams was thus concerned with the risk attached to the difficulty of getting the right person for the job:

“A around peg in a square hole just sits badly, damages the hole, and damages the peg.”

In any case, the pressure on lawyers will remain heightened, with David Jabbari stating it risks becoming “unsustainable”.

There are also professional indemnity insurance (PII) implications of this risk that firms are increasingly burdened with. Marc Rowson, Senior Vice President at insurance brokerage Locktons, said residential conveyancing “remains the area of practice that delivers the highest number of [PII] claims”, continuing:

“In an ever more fraught economic environment and even more responsibility falling at the door of conveyancers, insurers fears and concerns are heightening once again with regards to residential property work.”

Rowson went on to note a number of common causes of claims for conveyancers to be aware of:

  • Lack of supervision
  • Failure to obtain written consent to proceed from lenders
  • Failure to make and/or note relevant enquiries of a client
  • Failure to submit deeds for registration in a timely manner or failure to submit security deeds to the Registrar of Companies separately
  • Identity/mortgage fraud

He said it is “imperative” that conveyancing claims reduce across the board:

“This will not only see a reduction in cost from current participants, but will also serve as a catalyst for new entrants to participate and as a result increase the supply across the PII market for law firms.”

What is the answer?

In exploring ways to reduce the complexity and risk of conveyancing and make the job of a conveyancer more sustainable, Suman Dally said education is key.

“We must demystify conveyancing, explaining the extent of what we do, what is involved and why it is important. Apps are enabling clients to get involved in the process, but this education needs to be replicated across media and intermediaries.”

This is one key aim of the upcoming National Conveyancing Week launched by BLG’s Rob Hailstone. He said it is crucial to “[identify] the pain points and [take] urgent action to alleviate the unnecessary pressure that many put on conveyancers”.

Another key objective outlined by Paul Sams was improving the support in place within firms, achieved in part by “reviewing what is happening in the market and being able to adapt accordingly”. He also called for any new legislation to be written in plain English by statute writers:

“The whole situation with say asbestos surveyors being required in communal areas of flats could have been avoided with a touch more in the drafting.”

David Jabbari critiqued the pivotal subject that is conveyancing fees, suggesting that, should the economics of conveyancing not improve significantly, dealing with the aforementioned risks rather than eliminating them will remain on firms’ agenda. He went on to make several more suggestions:

“The most vital starting point is understanding your capacity: many firms struggle to have a proper handle on the exact workload and capacity of their teams. Having sophisticated capacity management measurement and tools is essential.

The next key requirement is supervision and escalation: being able to spot issues early. For example, at Muve we use tools which monitor sentiment analysis in emails to see if issues are arising, allowing quick intervention.

Finally, having practices like allocation holidays and a proper range of wellbeing options to support lawyers is essential.”

Angelo Piccirillo added that the answer is to “innovate the admin tasks, and now”:

“Even if you have to scale down your drawings, invest in tech such as in integrations with APIs with the Land Registry, lender portals, search companies online, AML, and a better cloud-based case management system.

If you don’t, you will risk losing your lawyers, and without a fallback plan on the tech, you risk stagnation, less work, and ultimately ending up a so-called ‘dabbler’ conveyancer, where you risk losing lender panel status but paying prohibitive insurance premiums or, worse, being uninsurable.”

Suman Dally concluded with two further ways in which conveyancers can be supported:

“We have to keep raising the bar when it comes to staff training and supervision, while attracting new talent into the profession. It is imperative that different conveyancing firms and intermediaries support each other – understanding that now is a moment for unity.

Conveyancers discussing issues and finding solutions together can help to get deals done. Lenders and surveyors can better support the process, with intermediaries looking at how they present information in a paperless world. The Solicitors Regulation Authority and Council for Licensed Conveyancers should also keep reviewing how to best support firms in embracing further standardisation and training to achieve the high standards they expect.”

*Social media followers of Today’s Conveyancer, monitored for authenticity

5 Responses

  1. I suspect in most industries the “job” in general gets more complicated however what doesn’t help is how we are constantly involved in parts of the transaction that strictly speaking aren’t conveyancing, be that Stamp Duty, Environmental issues, other tax, ID, AML, Climate changes the list is becoming endless

  2. I am astounded by the comments of the likes of the CEO of Muve! I have been a residential conveyancer for nearly 50 years now and YES the job HAS become too complex. I believe Rob Hailstone has many decades behind him too, and as two “old timers” we both remember conveyancing in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Stamp Duty form was one side of an A4 sheet, when the Registers were private and copies could only be obtained with the permission of the freeholder/leaseholder, when building regulations and planning laws were much simpler. Complexity has arisen int he intervening decades due to the lack of thought of those passing the legislation, loopholes being sought to avoid Stamp Duty, and the ensuing complexities of Stamp Duty Land Tax etc.
    To say it has not just proves how inadequate conveyancing is being undertaken at some levels! Yes, administration needs to be passed to those capable of working at that level. Yes, more supervision and training is need. But just how that can be achieved is beyond me in this high pressured profession – no wonder people have left in droves and continue to leave. As shall I in a year or two!

  3. I am appalled at how long my conveyancing is taking and a good percentage of this time is taken up by the inept solicitors I am dealing with when it takes 3,4 or even 5 days for a solicitor to answer a simple email It tells me something is drastically wrong I believe not all but a good 30% of the time could be shaved off if the people and the solicitors could meet together in one room and go through all the paperwork that should be simple to deal with.It is now nearly 6mnths since my property sold and just today I have been asked questions about paperwork that I filled in in the first week of sale. I do understand somethings are out of the solicitors hands when information from other parties is required but they need to get there act together first and stop treating there customers so poorly.

    1. If the fees were double, then a lot of conveyancers in high volume shops would probably have 2/3 the workload and communication would speed up. The public needs to be educated to avoid the high volume / low fee places until conditions approve. I’m sure many home buyers would pay an additional 50% if it meant removing a month or two off the process.

  4. I agree with Devon Lady; I am astounded by the comments from Muve. Having dealt with the firm a number of times, I don’t think I will be taking any tips from them.

    Also, if you can’t spell “Move”, is property really the right job for you?

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